The Death on the Downs by Simon Brett

22nd April 2021.

Having enjoyed the first book in the Fethering village mysteries series, I was keen to see what neighbours Carole and Jude would get up to in this second outing. United by curiosity and sleuthing, this unlikely duo once again joins forces after Carole discovers a bag of human bones in a barn while sheltering from a storm.

Attention focuses on the nearby village of Weldisham, where the locals have plenty of secrets and animosities to hide. It doesn’t take long for both Jude and Carole to investigate different strands of the murder, arriving at the same conclusion in a deadly climax.

This is cosy mystery writing at its best. The characters are beautifully drawn and realised, each providing their own unique view of the world they inhabit. Though very different in nature, Carole and Jude work well together. The author never misses an opportunity to poke fun at the many conventions and traditions that go with village life and dictate behaviour. The dry, gentle humour pervades the whole story, helping to lighten the darker moments.

There’s no rush or car chases, none of the traumatised detectives who seem to populate most crime fiction these days, and no excessive violence or swearing. This is a gentle, funny and endearing murder mystery that’s as much about the characters and idiosyncrasies of village life as it is about solving a complex murder.

If you enjoy a cosy mystery, this is about as warm, entertaining and beautifully written as it gets.

Description

It wasn’t the rain that upset Fethering resident Carole Seddon during her walk on the Downs, or the dilapidated barn in which she was forced to seek shelter. No, what upset her was the human skeleton she discovered there, neatly packed into two blue fertiliser bags . . .

Amateur sleuths Carole and Jude go to the small hamlet of Weldisham where gossips quickly identify the corpse as Tamsin Lutteridge, a young woman who disappeared from the village months before. But why is Tamsin’s mother so certain that her daughter is still alive? As Jude sets out to discover what really happened to Tamsin, Carole digs deeper into Weldisham’s history and the bitter relationships simmering beneath the village’s gentle facade.

Death on the Downs by Simon Brett

Thicker than Water by JD Kirk

4th March 2021.

In a world of crime fiction where many series tread the same well-worn steps, some books stand out for their originality, the distinctive voice and style of the author, and a great set of characters to bring the story to life.

Thicker than Water has all three qualities in abundance. Detective Chief Inspector Jack Logan is a gruff workaholic who knows how to draw the best from his team. Their banter, camaraderie, and the way they pull together is a joy, lifting the story with humour, humanity and a determination to get the job done, no matter what.

In this second outing, the team are investigating an unpleasant, ritualistic murder of a single mother, whose body is dumped into Loch Ness. She has a dubious boyfriend with a history of anger and aggression. But with few clues, even less forensic evidence and no substantial leads, the investigation makes slow progress.

While Logan and his colleagues rise to the challenge, none of them are prepared for what they discover as the story accelerates to an exciting and unexpected climax.

Distinctive, atmospheric and credible, this gritty story is populated with believable and engaging characters. Logan’s cynical social commentary paints some graphic pictures of life in the Scottish Highlands, but it’s his unflagging determination to catch the killer and his humanity you’ll remember.

Highly recommended.

Description

In twenty years on the force, he has seen his share of monsters.

When a badly mutilated body washes up on the shores of Loch Ness, DCI Jack Logan’s dream of a quiet life in the Highlands is shattered.

While the media speculates wildly about monster attacks, Jack and the Major Investigations Team must act fast to catch the killer before they can strike again.

But with Nessie-hunters descending on the area in their dozens, and an old enemy rearing his ugly head, the case could well turn out to be the most challenging of Jack’s career.

And, if he isn’t careful, the last.

Thicker than Water by JD Kirk

No Sex Please We’re Crime Writers

19th February 2021.

Have you ever wondered why there’s so little sex in crime fiction?

Maybe there is and I’m reading the wrong books. Maybe sex and murder are not good bedfellows.

Some categories of crime fiction, such as cosy mysteries, exclude explicit sex, graphic violence and excessive swearing. In my book, literally and metaphorically, this doesn’t exclude romance, sexual tension and people sleeping together. It simply frowns on graphic description.

But sex scenes should only be in a story if they are essential to the plot or character development. This should be the case in any book in any category. If a killer, for instance, seduces his or her victims before killing them, does this need to be shown in detail?

Crime Scene - No sex please

You could argue the same for murder. Does it need to be shown in great detail?

It depends on the type of book and the writer, I guess. With so much emphasis on the collection of forensic and DNA evidence at crime scenes, detailed description that may lead investigators closer to the killer would be essential.

It’s up to writers to show the world as they see it.

Personally, I’m not a fan of torture scenes or any graphic descriptions that involve violence or someone inflicting pain on another human being or animal.

That’s not to say I live in a closeted world where everything’s rosy. I simply don’t need to read the details. I have an imagination. If someone is being tortured as part of the story, tell me. I need to know. But do I want to know every detail of what the killer’s doing?

Some writers like to get into the minds of killers, to show how they’ve become who they are. We’re all inquisitive and the subject’s fascinating, but that doesn’t mean it needs graphic descriptions.

It’s the same with sex. My readers can imagine a sex scene much better than I can write it. And let’s be honest here, each person will imagine it a little differently, making the story more personal to them.

Fun readingSurely, that’s what we want as authors – readers to enjoy our books. Reading is an emotional experience. The imagination fills in the blanks. We see characters in a particular way, even when they are described in detail. It means readers are more likely to get something personal to them from what they read.

Of course there are times when you have to lay things out in detail, if only for accuracy or credibility, but I would suggest there’s always some room to allow the reader’s imagination to personalise what they’re reading.

If I want everything laid out for me, I’ll watch TV.

Then I can complain on social media that the main character is nothing like the one I pictured in the books.

Not that I really picture them. I’m more interested in who they are, not what they look like.

And that’s the point, ultimately. No two readers are alike. Every one of us has different tastes, values and attitudes. I prefer to read books that aren’t graphic or filled with profanities. I know people swear in the real world, but they also belch, fart, pick their noses, scratch their bums and so on.

If the story and characters are engaging, some swearing and violence won’t put me off a book.

If the swearing and violence feel excessive or unnecessary, I can stop reading – and often do.

I want people to enjoy my books. I want to entertain my readers.  I want to tantalise them with complex plots and mysteries in a contemporary world that feels real.

I don’t need graphic sex, foul language and excessive violence to achieve that. It doesn’t make my books soft and fluffy or unrealistic.

I’m writing a murder mystery not a bonk buster.

Reading questions

How do you feel about swearing, sex and violence in crime novels?


Learn more about the Kent Fisher murder mysteries.

A Pocket Full of Rye by Agatha Christie

17th February 2021.

Under the cover of a children’s nursery rhyme a killer is bumping people in the Fortescue house. The dysfunctional family, ably looked after by the efficient Miss Dove, offer up plenty of suspects and motives, as you would expect with Agatha Christie. Then there are the servants, a lover, and a historical rivalry to add more suspects to the pool.

The author handles it all with her usual mastery, laying false trails and diversions to fox the local police. There’s no lack of social comment and humour as she reveals the secrets and conflicts within the family.

Having trained one of the parlour maids serving there, Miss Marple arrives at the house to assist the police. It doesn’t take her long to separate the rye from the chaff with her incisive knowledge of human nature and ability to spot the worst in people.

The story’s a joy from start to finish, weaving a winding trail through a house filled with largely unlikable characters, nearly all tarnished by money and greed. It’s a masterclass in the classic whodunit and hugely entertaining.

Description

In Agatha Christie’s classic, A Pocket Full of Rye, the bizarre death of a financial tycoon has Miss Marple investigating a very odd case of crime by rhyme.

Rex Fortescue, king of a financial empire, was sipping tea in his “counting house” when he suffered an agonizing and sudden death. On later inspection, the pockets of the deceased were found to contain traces of cereals.

Yet, it was the incident in the parlour which confirmed Miss Marple’s suspicion that here she was looking at a case of crime by rhyme. . .

A Pocket Full of Rye by Agatha Christie

They Do it with Mirrors by Agatha Christie

10th February 2021.

I’m working my way through the Miss Marple series and thoroughly enjoying myself. All the stories so far have been smoothly written in a direct style that takes you to the heart of the story and plot. Each story is distinctive and They Do It with Mirrors is no exception.

This time Miss Marple’s asked to help an old friend, Carrie Louise, who may be in danger. She’s living in an old mansion which now has a rehabilitation centre for criminals. Due to her history of marriages, Carrie Louise has accumulated a number of family members, who live with her. Add the staff needed to run the rehab centre and you have plenty of suspects.

When her stepson visits unexpectedly, no one expects him to be murdered in his room. Most of the suspects are in the dark, thanks to the lights failing, while her husband, Lewis, is arguing with a troubled young man in the office next door.

Then it looks like someone’s trying to poison Carrie Louise.

The author handles the large cast well, with her usual skilful characterisation, providing plenty of suspects and motives for the murder, as the police soon discover. Miss Marple’s not thrown by the red herrings as she slowly makes sense of everything that happens in a detached, almost clinical manner that belies her humanity and understanding of human nature.

It’s all over a little quickly, but that doesn’t diminish what is another fine example of the author’s ability to weave a complex, gripping story that keeps you guessing to the end.

Description

A man is shot at in a juvenile reform home – but someone else dies…

Miss Marple senses danger when she visits a friend living in a Victorian mansion which doubles as a rehabilitation centre for delinquents. Her fears are confirmed when a youth fires a revolver at the administrator, Lewis Serrocold. Neither is injured. But a mysterious visitor, Mr Gilbrandsen, is less fortunate – shot dead simultaneously in another part of the building.

Pure coincidence? Miss Marple thinks not, and vows to discover the real reason for Mr Gilbrandsen’s visit.

They Do It With Mirrors by Agatha Christie

Over her Dead Body by AB Morgan

18th January 2021.

Can you imagine waking up one day to discover you’re dead? Your bank account’s closed because you’ve been certified dead, but no one bothered to tell you. The bailiffs are at the door, your car has been impounded and your employers can’t pay your salary.

The premise was irresistible and though I didn’t know the author, I dived straight into this entertaining and enjoyable story that’s part psychological suspense and part private investigator. While the subject matter’s a little dark at times, it’s lightened by the characters and generous dashes of humour throughout.

Peddyr Quirk and his fabulous wife, Connie, the private investigators who take the case, are perfectly suited to Gabby Dixon’s unusual dilemma. With their help, she starts to find out who is doing this to her and why. As layers are peeled away, deep family issues and a teenage tragedy come to the surface. As more of the past is unlocked, the truth becomes more sinister than Gabby could ever have imagined.

Description

Gabby Dixon is dead. That’s news to her…

Recently divorced and bereaved, Gabby Dixon is trying to start a new chapter in her life.

As her new life begins, it ends. On paper at least.

But Gabby is still very much alive. As a woman who likes to be in control, this situation is deeply unsettling.

She has two crucial questions: who would want her dead, and why?

Enter Peddyr and Connie Quirk, husband-and-wife private investigators. Gabby needs their help to find out who is behind her sudden death.

The truth is a lot more sinister than a simple case of stolen identity.

Over Her Dead Body by AB Morgan

 

 

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

10th January 2021.

Anyone who follows my reviews will know I like trying something different and new authors, though in this case I’m well aware of Richard Osman from his TV work. The moment I started to read, the direct, conversational style drew me straight into the characters and setup and promised an entertaining crime story with plenty of humour and witty observations.

The action takes place at a luxury retirement complex/village, where four of the residents meet up to investigate unsolved murders. They’re led by Elizabeth, whose past occupation seems to allow her an endless supply of contacts that get almost any information she needs. While she’s the main driving force, her compatriots all have plenty to contribute.

When a dodgy developer linked to the complex is killed, the team have a real murder to investigate. With some dubious and skilful manipulation, Elizabeth manages to enlist the help of the local detective inspector in charge of the police investigation. When the owner of the complex is also murdered, the team discover a complicated web of businesses and deals that throw up a good number of suspects.

It’s cleverly plotted and written, always with a gentle, humorous touch, some genuinely touching moments, and a plot that twists and turns, taking the reader through a multitude of emotions. It’s an assured debut that should appeal to anyone who likes a gentle mystery with a sharp plot.

If you’re happy to suspend disbelief, it’s pure escapism with wry social comments, likeable characters, spun through with wit, humour and compassion. I’d be very surprised if there aren’t more cases ahead for the murder club.

Description

In a peaceful retirement village, four unlikely friends meet up once a week to investigate unsolved murders.

But when a brutal killing takes place on their very doorstep, the Thursday Murder Club find themselves in the middle of their first live case.

Elizabeth, Joyce, Ibrahim and Ron might be pushing eighty but they still have a few tricks up their sleeves.

Can our unorthodox but brilliant gang catch the killer before it’s too late?

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

The Moving Finger by Agatha Christie

23rd December 2020.

Every time I read one of Agatha Christie’s books, I’m impressed by her direct, easy-to-read style that draws you into the heart of the story from the first page. Language and values aside, her writing feels modern, with plenty of dialogue, the minimum amount of description, and succinct characterisation. In short, she transports you into her world with the minimum of effort.

The Moving Finger is no different. It starts with injured pilot Jerry Burton and his sister Joanne moving to the quiet village of Lymstock, where someone’s sending out poison pen letters. It isn’t long before Mrs Symington, wife of the local solicitor, takes her own life after receiving one of the letters.

With a wide cast of suspects, Jerry Burton tries to identify the letter writer. Then Rose, a maid in the Symington household, is brutally murdered, and the whole atmosphere changes as the police investigate.

The story builds slowly, using the different reactions of the recipients of the letters to build suspense and suspicion. Jerry Burton, who narrates the story, is a capable lead who’s soon out of his depth as he struggles to identify the person responsible. When Rose dies, it’s time to call in Jane Marple.

I’m not sure why Agatha Christie waited until the final quarter of the book to bring in Miss Marple, but her impact is immediate. She swings into action to connect all the clues, solve the murders and restore calm and justice to Lymstock in an exciting climax.

With a fine cast of suspects, red herrings, misunderstandings, and the author’s humour and social commentary, this is a classic whodunit that’s as clever as it is baffling and complex. An enjoyable and memorable read, the novel reveals why the author remains so popular.

It’s simply a treat from start to finish.

Description

The placid village of Lymstock seems the perfect place for Jerry Burton to recuperate from his accident under the care of his sister, Joanna. But soon a series of vicious poison-pen letters destroys the village’s quiet charm, eventually causing one recipient to commit suicide. The vicar, the doctor, the servants—all are on the verge of accusing one another when help arrives from an unexpected quarter. The vicar’s house guest happens to be none other than Jane Marple.

The Moving Finger by Agatha Christie

Blood on the Tyne: Headshots by Colin Garrow

15th November 2020.

Rosie Robson’s second appearance is another exciting adventure as she rushes from danger to danger to pursue the person who killed two models. The singer and part time sleuth is a feisty likeable character, who’s smart, sassy and filled with Geordie nouse and humour. With a little help and support from police detective Vic, she keeps tugging at the thread until it starts to unravel.

The author wraps the adventure in a warm, nostalgic Newcastle in the mid 1950s. From the terraced houses occupied by ship builders to the smoky clubs where Rosie performs, there’s a rich vein of Geordie humour, camaraderie and vivid characters underpinning the story.

There’s also danger and tension around every corner as the bad guys do their best to thwart Rosie efforts to get to the truth. It all leads to an exciting adventure, filled with action, great dialogue and an exciting climax that could leave you breathless, but wanting more.

A fine and worthy follow-up to the first Rosie Robson novel, this has the makings of another fine series from Colin Garrow.

Here’s to the next book in the series.

Description

When someone starts killing fashion models, Rosie Robson finds herself in the firing line.

Newcastle, 1955. When a young model is murdered, the woman’s bereaved family ask singer and amateur sleuth Rosie Robson to investigate. But before she can check out the agency where the woman worked, the killer strikes again. Discovering a telephone number that could lead to the killer, Rosie tries to make contact, unaware that a Gateshead gangster already has her in his sights.

Headshots by Colin Garrow